Can you get too much protein? Good question. With M&F and your gym buddies preaching the minimum of 1 gram per pound of bodyweight and a lot of mainstream media talking about the dangers of that standard, things can get a bit confusing. This two-part series, presented in easy-to-follow Q&A format, should help assuage your fears.
Q: This sounds stupid, but what is protein?
A: Proteins are large molecules made up of chains of smaller molecules called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids the body uses to make protein, and when you eat protein, your body breaks apart the aminos and sends them to whichever part of your body needs whichever type of amino.
Protein in general is an extremely important nutrient, and not just because you like big muscles. "In all cells of the body, proteins perform crucial functions and are present in numerous forms," says Tabatha Elliott, PhD, who has studied protein extensively at the University of Texas Medical Branch (Galveston). "Proteins form structural tissue [such as muscle fibers], blood plasma, enzymes, hormones, antibodies, hemoglobin, you name it." Protein is also responsible for a host of other things, from making your muscles move to transporting other substances (such as vitamins and minerals) throughout your body. Without it, you would be practically unable to function.
In fact, people who don't eat enough protein suffer a host of problems, namely wasting, where the body basically attempts to feed the protein hunger by breaking down muscles and other organs. Protein deficiency isn't often a concern in meat-loving America, and it certainly isn't a risk among those who follow a well-planned bodybuilding diet. Rather, mainstream nutritionists worry about the opposite "problem": the health effects of eating too much protein.